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Monday, August 22, 2011

Shiny Beads and Shallow Flattery

I’m as guilty as the next person of focusing a disproportionate amount of attention on the “stars” of horse racing—namely, 3-year-olds and a diminishing number of older horses challenging the renowned G1 races. All-too-often their stories overshadow those of horses who, in another age, would have been worshipped for their durability. Yes, those types of race horses do actually still exist, and this weekend we witnessed by two of them exactly the kind of performances of which legends are made.

On Sunday, 8-year-old Awesome Gem won the G3 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs with jockey David Flores aboard for trainer Craig Dollase—the very same connections associated with this Awesome Again gelding since his first race at age 3. With 46 career starts and earnings now nearing $2.7 million, he’s still plugging away, having finally garnered that elusive G1 win last year (Hollywood Gold Cup). Remember his third-place finish behind Curlin and Hard Spun (and ahead of Street Sense, Tiago, Any Given Saturday and Lawyer Ron) in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth—and how relatively-quickly those competitors retired to the breeding barn? Not an option for him, but he’s still performing at a high level. The form of his G3 Lone Star Park Handicap win back on May 30 was franked when runner-up Flat Out subsequently won the G2 Suburban and then ran second in the G1 Whitney; third-place finisher Game On Dude next finished second, a mere nose behind stablemate First Dude, in the G1 Hollywood Gold Cup. I’m not sure where Awesome Gem will turn up next, but I’m looking forward to it regardless. 

In winning the Remington Park Sprint Cup on Saturday night, 7-year-old Ravalo came within .18 seconds of setting a new 6-furlong track record, not to mention he posted his 16th victory in 45 starts, with earnings of $1,121,522. How long ago it seems since his juvenile campaign when, at 34-1, he finished second in his maiden effort at Laurel. Since then, he’s had one trainer—Donald Barr—and one owner—Lindy Redding, the kind of consistency that Awesome Gem also enjoys. A multiple-G3 winner, the Mutakddim gelding’s greatest moment may have occurred when coming within a half length of defeating Vineyard Haven in the 2009 G1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash. Now ungraded, the De Francis returns after a year hiatus, and is being considered for Ravalo this fall. Not bad for a $30k yearling purchase. You can view a replay of his Remington Park win here.

These are the proven warriors we should be celebrating, far more than the flash-in-the-pan types that litter so much industry press today. Whether mere state-bred legends (like Russell Road in West Virginia, Joey P. in New Jersey, or Wasserman in Washington) or those like Awesome Gem and Ravalo who regularly trek across country, these are truly the horses that fans can follow with a passion. They are the horses the industry needs to built its image upon, not those that come and go like the latest fad. People (fans) want to be emotionally invested in horses that stick around.


Dawn at WPT said...

Valerie, thank you for your thoughts on celebrating these old warriors and shining a light on their accomplishments. Having a horse like Gem is why people get into this great game, and he has brought immeasurable joy to his partners and to the team at West Point Thoroughbreds. Like a fine wine, he keeps getting better with age.

Valerie Grash said...

And sincere congratulations, Dawn, to everyone at West Point Thoroughbreds! He's such a pleasure to watch as a fan, and obviously well taken care of by Craig Dollase's team. Any chance we'll see him back East this year again, perhaps at Churchill in early November? :-)

Nicholas said...

Don't know if you're looking for more candidates, but Star Guitar in La. has put on quite a show in his career. May not have the body of work (yet) to make the warriors list, but here's hoping he keeps rolling.

Thanks for the post.

Valerie Grash said...

Nicholas, I'm a HUGE fan of Star Guitar! He definitely deserves mention. So too does Rapid Redux who just won his 15th straight at Thistledown on Monday. I'm thinking we need a central place to highlight these kinds of horses, either a Facebook page or their own blog...hmm, now you got me thinking. Thanks for commenting!

Dawn at WPT said...

Valerie, we'll let Gem tell us where and when he wants to run, but I would say there is a chance he heads East again this year. How about Rapid Redux yesterday - 15 wins in a row! Hat's off to this warrior